Friday, March 27, 2020

What do House Finches like to eat?

House Finches are small songbirds found across the United States, extreme southern Canada, and into Mexico. They are grayish-brown and heavily streaked. The males have red foreheads, breast, and rump which the females lack.

These common birds are found in residential and urban backyards, as well as near water in arid regions of the West and Mexico.

House Finches are highly attracted to bird feeders where they eat a variety of seeds. Their favorite, though, is black oil sunflower seeds. Keep reading to see what else they like to eat and what kind of bird feeders they like. There is something else you can add to your yard to make the House Finches happy!

This page is a supplement to my overview page on Attracting House Finches to your backyard. When finished here, please go back to that overview page to find more information and links to other in-depth articles on the range and habitat of House Finches, identification and similar species, and courtship and nesting.

Photo of male House Finch eating sunflowers at a feeder
House Finch
Photo by Greg Gillson

Diet and natural food

Throughout the year, about 86% of what House Finches eat is weed seeds, according to The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Thistles and dandelions seeds from fields and vacant lots are mentioned by most authors. Other seeds mentioned include wild mustard, knotweed, mulberry and poison oak.

In fall, House Finches like to eat fruit, too. It seems that they sometimes do damage to orchards. There they may eat peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries. Mulberries are a wild fruit they eat.

House Finches eat a very few insects. In fact, their vegetarian diet is so strong that they even feed seeds to their nestlings.

In spring, House Finches eat blossoms and buds from many varieties of plants.

House Finches at the backyard feeder

Foods to attract House Finches

House Finches will eat many varieties of bird seed. By far, though, House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds! They prefer it twice as much as striped sunflowers and hulled sunflower seeds. [See my article on what birdseed birds like best.]

Another seed House Finches really like is Niger seed. They will also eat safflower and white proso millet. You can buy a good quality mixed birdseed (lots of black oil sunflowers, little or no milo). You may try a "finch" blend that will contain sunflower seeds and Niger seed.

House Finches may eat corn, peanuts, and milo, but they don't like these nearly as well as the seeds above.

At your feeder you may try cut up fruits. Cherries are a favorite. You might try cutting up apples, peaches and nectarines, too.

House Finches eat suet occasionally and even bread crumbs.

Black oil sunflower seed is generally about $1 per pound in quantity. Here is a variety from Amazon that is of good quality and usually priced competitively.

What is the best bird feeder for House Finches?

House Finches aren't too picky about the kind of bird feeder that you use. They come equally well to platform, hopper, and tube feeders.

They may get less competition from other birds at the tube feeders, though. Here's a 16 inch tall tube feeder from Amazon that will hold up to 1 pound of sunflower seeds.

House Finches will readily come to window feeders. They are not as wary and skittish as some other feeder birds. If they get startled away, they will quickly return. Click here for a whole selection of window feeders from Amazon for you to choose from.

Feeding and foraging behavior

House Finches tend to travel around in small, loose flocks. Flocks in size of 5 to a dozen birds seem to be the most common. So when they come to the feeder it is usually as a group, not single birds.

They tend to be noisy and active at the feeder, calling and chirping and jumping around. They are a little bit flighty--but if chased from the feeder by another, they usually fly to another spot on the feeder or a nearby perch. Then they return immediately.

When eating, House Finches chew to open the seed husks. Then they use their tongues to remove the seed kernel and swallow it. They allow the seed husks just to fall out the sides of their mouths. This results in empty seed shells in the feeder tray or on the ground under the feeder. These should be cleaned away regularly.

House Finches regularly feed on the ground. They may clean up some of the spilled seed under the feeder. Usually, though, they feed from the feeder.

Photo of a male House Finch bathing in a bird bath
House Finch bathing
Photo by Greg Gillson


House Finches really love to drink water. 

A 1956 paper (source) describes several experiments on House Finches in California and water consumption. At 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) the birds drank and average of 40% of their body weight in a day. Amazingly, some birds drank 100% of their weight in water in a 24 hour period. The average water consumption at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) was 20% of body weight. During this time they were feed only dry mixed bird seed.

Then those experimenters took away the water and birds survived for a week with no weight loss on dry seeds and succulent vegetables (celery tops, apples, and lettuce).

House Finches love to bathe, too. So you should provide shallow water for them to bathe in. They don't mind bathing in taller bird baths, or on the ground.

Here is a link to birdbaths on Amazon. Check out all the varieties here.

Back to the overview page on attracting House Finches to your backyard.


  1. Good information. I just put up a window feeder and noticed these, tho at first I thought they were a cross between a sparrow and a cardinal! Thanks for the seed tips.

    1. Glad this article was able to help you with your ID quandary, Tina!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. What food can be used to increase the red in the male finches. I understand it is carotenoids but what can I provide that contains carotenoids?

    1. Interesting question. A quick look on the Internet revealed that House Finches get the carotenoids in summer from fruits and berries they eat. So it may depend on what native fruits grow in your immediate area. Then they molt in those new colorful feathers in the fall.

    2. I put out some grape jelly and a slice of orange on a plate for the Orioles and the House Finches were there every day for it right in the morning 😎 grabbing it.

    3. That's why they are so successful, I guess!

  4. In north central Colorado -- Ft. Collins -- we have huge numbers of house finches. We have 8 feeders scattered across an acre of field and forest. NONE of the finches will eat nyjer. In Nebraska we had huge flocks of goldfinches, and they chowed down at least 100 pounds of nyjer every year. The house finches here prefer safflower. We have large platform feeders full of black oil sunflower, and the finches won't touch it. With safflower prices going into orbit, we will try hulled sunflower this winter.

    1. Make sure your seed is fresh, if you can find out. In the fall try to get this year's seed. Any seed you get now this time of year is likely almost a year old. Birds like fresher seed.

  5. What would you suggest one should do to *discourage* house finches? We have a gang of about a dozen that has begun to dominate our tube feeders, scaring off the other birds; and they are voracious emptying each feeder daily. Is there a food they don't like? Or a food they would like more than black oil sunflower that we could place further away for them?

    1. Well, that's an interesting question. But I do understand. Too much of a good thing!

      House Finches prefer black oil sunflower seeds. But, then again, so do most seed eating birds. If you discourage House Finches, you are really discouraging all seed eating birds.

      Change to thistle feeders and Niger seed. Suet will attract chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers. Nectar for hummingbirds and orioles. White proso millet for smaller sparrows. Peanuts for jays.

  6. I am writing this on 04-20-2022, in Loveland Colorado. We have several large platform feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds. We also have 10 large perch feeders filled with safflower seeds. We have very large house finch populations, but they very rarely will eat the sunflower seeds. They wolf down the safflower, to the tune of 100 pounds per summer/autumn. Maybe Colorado finches are oddballs.

    1. Very interesting. Perhaps the sunflower seed is old?

      Evidently the House Finches have decided they like safflower seeds!

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. House finches in northwest INDIANA visit grape jelly dishes we have out for orioles.

  8. We’re in Ohio and house finches here also enjoy our grape jelly oriole feeders 😁

  9. I have a solo female house finch that follows me around work all day and I feed it worms really big ones and it eats them it’s hilarious to watch I’ve also seen her eat butterflies and grasshoppers super cool birds


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